I first discovered Robert Lepage’s work at the National Theatre when he brought Needles and Opium to London and ever since then I’ve been under the spell of this Quebecois director.
So needless to say, I was over the moon to hear that Lepage and his theatre company Ex Machina were returning to London with a new play. Playing Cards 1: Spades, with Hearts, Clubs and Diamonds to come.
Used to seeing Lepage’s work at the National Theatre and having seen The Dragon Trilogy at The Barbican, it was a refreshing change to watch his latest play at the Roundhouse. I love this venue and the last time I had been here was for the Gorillaz gig a couple of years ago; so it had been a while.
Spades is set in the round, which creates a sense of intimacy that is relevant to the storytelling of the play: several lives cross paths inside a Las Vegas hotel/casino and as an audience, we become voyeurs into the characters’ deepest and darkest secrets.
Every angle of the character is exposed whilst the stage mechanics manage to transport us from the Nevada desert to the different hotel rooms where the action takes place. The stage transforms itself from a spa jacuzzi to a hotel bar seamlessly.
But Lepage’s wizardry isn’t purely technical. The characters’ journeys are mesmerising and the choreography on stage hypnotising.
And here is a video with reactions from some of the audience …
After watching the production that night, the audience were very fortunate to be able to watch Lepage being interviewed live on stage. Lepage discussed his working practice with Ex Machina as well as the development process of Spades. It was also fascinating to listen to Lepage talk about his evolution as an artist and the reasons why he decided to step away from the proscenium arch and onto the round stage, in order to break down the invisible barrier between the performers and the audience by getting rid of the fourth wall altogether.
For Lepage fans expecting to see theatricality reliant on projection screens, you may be disappointed by this production because Lepage has consciously moved away from filmic devices to aid his storytelling. Instead, Spades is a continuous work in progress that looks to examine the human condition through the lives of his characters and therefore it is ever evolving.
Robert Lepage is one of the most fascinating visionaries of our time and this is why I don’t mind my expectations being thwarted. The basis of good drama is the element of surprise and Lepage always manages to provide this, even if at times you’re not sure where he’s leading you. His theatre is pure theatricality that immerses you into another world. It is pure escapism on a dream-state level and I, for one, cannot wait for him to return to London with the next three playing cards.